Open Says Me

(Eric Shansby)
  Enlarge Photo    
By by Gene Weingarten
Sunday, February 15, 2009

I am looking at a half-empty, family-size box of Kellogg's Rice Krispies. On the top it says, "To open, slide finger under tab and break seal to left and right." It might as well have said, "To open, smear jelly on top and give to starving marmoset." The top is exploded outward like the hatch on a missile silo after the bird has flown. The EZ-tuck tab, for convenient resealing, is useless because the slot into which it was to snugly fit is now a ragged open wound, as though it were punched apart.

So it is always with cereal boxes, at least in my house. Milk cartons, too. Milk cartons instruct you to spread the wings gently, bend back and then push forward into a convenient spout, a spout that, in my 40-odd years as an adult, has never once taken shape exactly as it is supposed to. At best, the milk pours out at an angle over sopping cardboard fuzz; at worst, the entire operation collapses in catastrophic system failure: Both sets of wings are spread, pinched and then pulled, and the entire top yawns wetly open, like a snoring wino's mouth.

I suppose it is possible that this packaging dysfunction is just about me, but I doubt it. In the breadth of modern history, can it be that anyone has ever been able to use a tube of Super Glue more than once?

Can no one produce a package of clear plastic cling wrap in such a way that you can actually find the leading edge without having to remove the roll from the box and desperately explore its wrinkly topology with your fingertips? Or how about packing tape, where, when you finally do find the edge, only part of it peels up, creating a shoelace-wide strip you must try to coax all the way around to get it to widen? Or when toilet paper does the same thing, and you are sitting there with what amounts to confetti, which is not ideally suited to the task at hand?

What about those convenient pop-top, peel-back can lids, now available for products such as tuna and soup, an innovation that has made the electric can opener practically obsolete, except that the pop ring so often breaks off in your hands, and then you can't finish the job with an electric can opener because you don't have one because they are practically obsolete. So in exasperation you use the sharp end of a beer can punch, again and again, around the top, creating a fang-toothed metal disc that must be disposed of with the sort of care usually reserved for fissile material.

If your product comes with a twist-top bottle cap, why is it then necessary to cover the entire cap and bottleneck in molded plastic of the same sort used on CD cases, which also cannot be breached without going at it, literally, tooth and nail?

No, I won't even get into clamshell packaging.

What about the individual serving-size packets of mustard or soy sauce with the tiny bite in the plastic to show you where you are supposed to tear -- except that the act of tearing something so small and so tensile requires the sort of hand strength shown by those carnival freaks who used to rip phone books in half.So instead you become that starving marmoset referenced above. This is dehumanizing. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

Why do jars of gooey semiliquids, such as honey or mayonnaise, invariably have a neck that is narrower than the shoulders, meaning there will always be stuff up there you cannot get at, but the rats and raccoons will?

Has anyone ever opened a bag of flour without experiencing anthrax-like powder dispersal?

Or what about those ketchup and toothpaste containers designed to stand upright on the cap, which is substantially smaller in diameter than the container, meaning that, by its own deliberate design, this product has the vertical stability of a mid-game Jenga pile?

And, finally, there is one product my editor warned me to write about cautiously. So I will say only this: It seems as though it was subversively packaged by the Roman Catholic Church to create one final, fumbling, exasperating, deflating impediment to sin.

Gene Weingarten can be reached at Chat with him online Tuesdays at noon.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company